• Gloria Tang

Nolen Sellwood's New Album Otherwise

Nolen Sellwood’s website states how “the first album that really touched him was Pink Moon by Nick Drake,” and listening to these ten songs, this specific musical influence immediately shows. In a few ways. For starters, he sings with a kind of smokey voice that bears an eerie resemblance to that late, great folk singer. But secondly, the musical style leans heavily toward acoustic folk sounds. Yes, this is a Drake-like collection in many places, but that’s not a bad thing at all. Instead, it’s many times a case of enjoyable listener déjà vu.



Upping the similarity ante, “To Be Saved” even applies orchestral elements, the same way Drake did. Sellwood has said his personal musical journal began with jazz and the vocalist Michael Franks. Not coincidently, much of Drake’s music was also inspired by jazz element. Sellwood oftentimes creates a sonic mood, more so than telling a literal story with his songs. It’s a musical state of mind, if you will. “This is for Someone” does this – also incorporating strings --- with subtle acoustic piano augmenting the primary guitar arrangement.


Listen to 'To Be Saved' here:



This album’s title track, “Otherwise,” contrasts with much of the rest of the album, in that it features upfront drum percussion. It’s funny, you may not even notice the lack of prominent drumming until it gets placed so far to the front of the mix – as is done here. Even so, though, Sellwood nevertheless still sounds relatively gentle singing it. The track kind of swings a bit, like jazz, and has a rolling, jazz-like bass part driving it. This song also includes a guitar solo, something that doesn’t happen much at all on the album. Another track where drums take on a larger role is “Eccentric Eyes.” Although he sings it in a much lower register, Sellwood’s vocal cadence may remind you of the way Dave Matthews sings many of his songs.


“Who Hasn’t Once” creates a much different type of mood. It sounds a little bit like country music in places and creates the impression of wide-open spaces. On it, Sellwood sings, “We shine incandescently.” Well, let’s hope we do. It’s been said how some people light up a room whenever they enter one. Sure, there are also individuals that have the opposite effect. However, we should strive to bring light, wherever we go, rather than darken the places we visit. This track is followed, quite appropriately, with one titled “Your Light.” It is one of the slowest and quietest songs on the album. It again includes sparse acoustic piano into is mix. It’s taken at a measured, deliberate pace, which allows the listener to be saturated in its unhurried beauty.


Yes, Otherwise will remind you of Nick Drake. Often. However, it is an album that explores the too often ignored sonic ground of moody acoustic instrumentation. Its songs don’t so much overwhelm you as they do envelop you. Few sounds create a mood better than music. It’s why the movies recognized early on how essential it is to fit visuals with the appropriate soundtrack. Listen to Otherwise and create your own mental visuals. Nolen Sellwood’s album is practically inviting you to do just that.


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-Dan MacIntosh